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Writing the Breakout Novel 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 215 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1582971827
ISBN-10: 158297182X
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

In today's world, an author who doesn't produce a breakout novel risks getting lost in the midlist of the publishing world. Maass, the author of 17 novels who now works as a literary agent representing such distinguished writers as Anne Perry and James Patterson, knows firsthand what makes a novel rise above its category in the already saturated book market. Using his own clients as case studies, Maass defines the most crucial elements of a breakout novel a powerful sense of time and place, larger-than-life characters, a high degree of tension, good subplots, and universal themes and shows the reader how to use these elements efficiently to write a novel that will generate interest and have the potential to hit the best sellers lists. Each section ends with checklists for review. Recommended for all public libraries serving communities with struggling writers. Lisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Anne Perry is the bestselling author of two acclaimed series set in Victorian England: the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, including Buckingham Palace Gardens and Long Spoon Lane, and the William Monk novels, including Execution Dock and Dark Assassin. She is also the author of a series of five World War I novels, as well as seven holiday novels, most recently A Christmas Odyssey, and a historical novel, The Sheen on the Silk, set in the Ottoman Empire. Anne Perry lives in Scotland.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Writer's Digest Books; 1 edition (2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158297182X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1582971827
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm a published author with a division of Random House. I wondered what this book might have to offer, after hearing great things about it from amateurs to pros.

My response is two-fold. Yes, I'm one of the midlist authors that Maass addresses, and I did find some true--albeit painful--comments that pertain to my mediocre success. The man knows the market and the publishing industry. Don't let artistic snobbery keep you from seeing the realities that he portrays here. I still have much to learn, and some of those lessons have started with the reading of this book.

On the other hand, the book is focused on commercial success. Like many others, I get suspicious when I see Nicholas Sparks mentioned as one of the examples of a breakout novelist. In a world of Starbucks and WalMarts, do we really want every writer to break things down to the same commercial aspects? I don't.

I have novels in stores; I've earned money (though not enought to live on) from this side job; and ohhhh, how I'd love to make a great living at it. As Maass points out, though, those who want to move past the midlist must adhere to certain principles of great storytelling. Great writers are not always great storytellers. Joining the two crafts can create miraculous things, and this book has challenged me to do so. Putting aside my artistic differences, I believe it can be done.
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Format: Paperback
Maass does go beyond the usual bland advice found in how-to-write books in that he tries to say which methods produce better results. He discusses "Premise", Stakes, Time and Place, Characters, Plot, "Contemporary Plot Techniques" ("nonlinear" narratives, character-driven stories), "Multiple Viewpoints, Subplots, Pace, Voice, Endings" (all in one chapter), "Advanced Plot Structures" (generational novels, whole life novels, historical novels, linked short stories), and Theme. His chapter on Stakes is particularly useful.

The problem I have with the book is the usual one: that the book assumes that every reader (and the would-be writer reading this book) has more or less the same tastes. Some of the books held up as exemplary novels to learn from, I found appalling.

Another problem is the occasional attempt to pander to the avant-garde. An example is "Nonlinear Narrative". There is no discussion/evaluation of this experimental technique. Nor is there any mention of how few readers there are for such material. But that's okay, because the matter is immediately dropped after two pages anyway, and it's back to the thrillers again.

Still, even when he's rehashing the same old ABCs, Maass does so in a lively way. So, beginning writers will certainly learn much from this book. And it is a valid point that Maass has not written a "breakout" novel himself, so how could this book tell us all we need to know to do it! It doesn't, but that does not mean that there isn't some useful information in the book.

No serious writer should read only one book on writing. The only protection from the author's tastes is to read a variety of books--not as easy as it sounds because most of them have the same tastes and most say the same things in different words and with different examples.
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Format: Paperback
Donald Maass gives a course in how to turn a good story into a breakout novel. He doesn't give advice on how to craft beautiful prose in the mode of Marquez or Naipaul. He's not teaching how to write the next To Kill a Mockingbird. He doesn't even attempt to supplant the craft as taught by the Iowa Writer's Workshop. What he writes about is turning a good story into a commercial success.

Like his advice, it's straightforward and a bit formulaic, but why would you pick this book up with the title, How to Write the Breakout Novel, if you didn't want advice on commercial success? That'd be silly if you ask me.

Maass knows the market as one of the top agents in publishing and as a successful novelist. He's given advice to his clients and it's propelled them to the top of the Bestseller List. Sure he uses personal examples and touts his client list, but it's an impressive client list, believe me. I don't like all the books he uses as examples, but that's personal choice and my choice hasn't impacted sales numbers at all.

I found his advice on Theme to be really good. To be honest, I hadn't considered starting with a theme and working to craft around something which resonates with the reader simply and clearly. I know all great stories integrate theme, but I didn't really understand that it could be a conscious thing on the part of the writer. Maybe that's my own naivety, but that's why I'm reading self-help books. It's completely changed the way I'm writing my next story.

The Checklist style construction makes recollection of what each chapter covered simple.

Want to know what it covers?
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
OK, so I will first start with the drawbacks. They're basically what the unsatsified reviewers of this prduct said - Maas likes to talk about himself and isn't shy about using this book to promote himself and his clients. A little annoying but BIG DEAL!

This book was extremely helpful. I've read many books on writing before. All are useful in their own way, but this one was useful through and through. Each chapter offered something important. The major contribution of this book was getting me to think BIGGER. To see the novel as an orchestra and to consider what I wanted the final product to look like and how to achieve it. It was also helpful how he reviewed different book and what it was about them that was successful. Read this book and every now and then look inside and consider whether you're following all the suggestions he offers. Writing a great novel (breakout novel) is more work, true, and with this book he helps you figure out just what work it is that needs to be done.

I can't see a book being bad if it follows all of the criteria.
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